Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels

Best of Batman & Superman: The Cruise of a Lifetime

***It’s easy to put Batman and Superman against one another, as they’re so different. But those who truly understand them know that the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel are better together! “Best of Batman & Superman” celebrates their best moments as a team!***

TITLE: Superman #76
AUTHOR: Edmond Hamilton
ARTISTS: Curt Swan, John Fischetti (Inker). Cover by Win Mortimer.
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
ORIGINAL COVER PRICE: 10 cents
RELEASED: 1952

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Published in 1952, Superman #76 is generally considered to be the first “proper” meeting of Batman and Superman. Granted, they’d been appearing on comic book covers together since the 40s. They’d also appeared together with the Justice Society in the pages of All-Star Comics. Batman and Robin had also made guest appearances on The Adventures of Superman radio show. But often, when historians are asked, “When did Batman and Superman meet in the comics?”, they point to this issue.

Put on your writer/editor hat for a moment: You want to have Superman and Batman, the two biggest and most popular superheroes in the world, meet for the “first time.” Where and how does it happen? In Metropolis? Gotham City? During a battle against Lex Luthor? The Joker? How did they discover one another’s identities? Did Superman use his x-ray vision? Did Batman brilliantly deduce that Clark Kent is Superman? There are a litany of possibilities. So what did they go with…?

Superman and Batman met on a cruise ship.

That’s right, folks. They met and even discovered one another’s identities aboard a goddamn cruise ship. What’s more, in it’s own little way, it worked. It was kind of a genius move, actually.

Written by Edmond Hamilton and drawn by Curt Swan, “The Mightiest Team in the World” kicks off with Batman and Robin doing something unthinkable by today’s standards: Taking a vacation. As Dick Grayson prepares to visit relatives upstate, Bruce Wayne is about to take “a real vacation, on a coastal cruise! I’ll just relax and forget crime for a change!”

Clearly pre-Silver Age heroes knew how to balance business and pleasure, as Clark Kent is about to vacation on the same cruise. And wouldn’t you know it, he winds up sharing a room with Bruce Wayne!

Then, via the magical serendipity of fiction, a jewel thief blows up a nearby tanker truck and uses the diversion to make off with a shipment of diamonds. Naturally, our heroes are keen to jump into action. Feigning fatigue, Bruce kills the lights, prompting both men to do their superhero quick-change.

But low and behold, the light from the flames shines through the window, revealing Bruce Wayne to be Batman and Clark Kent as Superman!

I used to balk at what, in hindsight, is a pretty historic moment. But I’ve found the more years go by, the more I soften on it. As a 30-something adult, I’ve actually come to appreciate it quite a bit.

One of the cardinal sins of a Superman/Batman story, for my money, is making one hero look superior to the other. These two men should stand on equal footing. If you can’t manage that, then you shouldn’t be writing the two characters together.

With this issue, the revelation is pure happenstance. We don’t have Superman peeking under Batman’s cowl with his x-ray vision. Batman doesn’t concoct some conniving scheme to discover Clark’s secret. It’s simply fate that they discover one another’s identities by accident in a moment of heroism. In that sense, it’s kind of perfect…

What’s more, they don’t spend a lot of time digesting it or brooding over it. They recognize they still have work to do, and they get to it.

Obviously our villain is meant to be the jewel thief, who has stowed away on the cruise ship. But I’d argue another character is perhaps inadvertently placed in an opposing role: Lois Lane. After seeing Superman and Batman on board the ship, Lois comes aboard looking for the story. Our heroes now have to keep her at bay while searching for the jewel thief.

After giving Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne a sea-sickness alibi, our heroes try pawning Batman off on Lois. The idea is that if Superman pretends to be jealous, “she’d be too occupied for amateur detective work!” But Lois is on to them. She pretends to actually be enamored with the Caped Crusader, which in turn actually does make the Man of Steel jealous.

Considering some of the stories we’d later get in books like Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane, it’s not necessarily surprising to see them lean into a jealousy angle between Superman and Lois. But on the other hand, it’s nice to see Lois portrayed as a force to be reckoned with among the heroes. Batman may be the world’s greatest detective, but contrary to what Superman says here, Lois is hardly an amateur detective herself.

C’mon Superman. It’s not amateur detective work. It’s called investigative journalism.

One of the classic Superman/Batman tricks is having the two disguise as one another. Superman dresses as Batman, Batman dresses as Superman, etc. Tom King and Clay Mann put a nice spin on this trope in Batman not long ago. We see an early version of it here, as after our heroes inevitably catch the bad guy, Bruce Wayne masquerades as Clark Kent while standing next to Superman to throw Lois off the scent of Clark’s true identity.

She gets the last laugh, though. Lois does indeed get a date with a hero by the end of the issue: Robin. (“Isn’t he the cutest little chap?”) How’d they get in touch, as Dick is supposed to be upstate, and we’re long before the age of cell phones? Why, that’s not important…

“The Mightiest Team in the World” is filled to the brim with pre-Silver-Age charm. What’s more, it does right by its characters. Superman and Batman come out of it looking like the world’s finest heroes. Lois Lane stands out as a clever go-getter, and not simply a brainless damsel. Even Robin gets a date by the end. Truly a red letter issue for all parties.

A cruise ship. Who’da thunk it?

Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels, Deep Dive Reviews

Who is Nightwing? – The End of an Artistic Era

***As Nightwing’s public profile grows higher via the Titans TV series and the upcoming Gotham Knights game, “Who is Nightwing?” looks at Dick Grayson’s early solo adventures after stepping out of Batman’s shadow.***

TITLES: Nightwing #3040, Nightwing: Secret Files & Origins #1
AUTHOR: Chuck Dixon
ARTISTS: Scott McDaniel, Karl Story (Inker), Roberta Tewes (Colorist), John Costanza (Letterer)
PUBLISHER:
DC Comics
ORIGINALLY RELEASED:
1999-2000
CURRENTLY COLLECTED IN:
Nightwing Vol. 4, Nightwing Vol. 5

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

These issues represents the finale of a 40-issue consecutive run for penciller Scott McDaniel, inker Karl Story, and colorist Roberta Tewes on Nightwing. McDaniel will be back later in the series. But collectively, this team that ultimately set the standard for Nightwing as a series is playing its last inning here.

Fittingly, author Chuck Dixon gives them compelling and exciting stories to tell, starting with a visit from none other than Superman.

Issue #30 is one of my favorites in the entire series, as Superman pays a quick visit to Bludhaven. Admittedly, it probably does more for Superman than Nightwing. But that’s because Dixon is one of the few writers out there that really gets the Man of Steel. As such, it’s that much more interesting to see him in Bludhaven, which is so different from Metropolis.

Furthermore, the dynamic between Superman and Dick Grayson has always been interesting to me. Remember, Superman knew Dick when he was a child, or at least younger, as Robin. So they’re both old friends and respected colleagues in that sense. That mutual respect is very much evident here. To that end, we get a nice flashback sequence later on where we spotlight Superman’s role in the formation of the Nightwing identity.

Scott McDaniel is as good at drawing Superman as he is Nightwing or Batman. One thing that jumped out at me in this collection is what a sense of motion this art has. Though the lighter colors of Superman’s costume do bring to light the hyper-musculature of his heroes, for better or worse. Occasionally, McDaniel will also draw Nightwing in awkward positions while he’s airborne. Case in point, the page at right. That’s a trap many an artist has fallen into with Dick. I suspect it has something to do with his gymnast background, and attempting to make him look flexible.

This Nightwing series sees Dick take on a few different day jobs. But issue #31 starts him on the path to my personal favorite: Police officer. It doesn’t really bear any fruit this time around, as he’s just in the academy for a few issues. But I’ve always loved the idea of one of the Bat-family members being a cop by day, given Batman’s often hot-and-cold relationship with the criminal justice system. Dixon has to put an abrupt halt to it in issue #35 due to a tie-in with the No Man’s Land crossover. But thankfully he gets to come back to it down the line.

The crossover in question sees Batman send Nightwing to Blackgate prison, which has been ravaged along with all of Gotham by the events of No Man’s Land, to wrest it from the incarceration-obsessed supervillain Lock-Up. Sadly, Dixon only has a few issues to tell the portion of the story that takes place in Blackgate. Thus, it doesn’t even remotely live up to its potential as a tale of Nightwing infiltrating Lock-Up’s prison system and taking it down from the inside. It actually winds up becoming more of a head-on attack. But thanks to the events of No Man’s Land, Dixon and McDaniel get to play with some Arkham regulars. Most notably Scarecrow, the Ventriloquist, and Firefly. Nightwing also dukes it out with KGBeast, roughly two decades before the character gives Dick amnesia via a bullet in the head (long story).

Published alongside the main series during this time was Nightwing: Secret Files & Origins #1, which features a sort of interlude to the Blackgate story. As Dick is unconscious and hallucinating, the then-deceased Jason Todd becomes a Dickens-esque guide through his life as hero. We breeze through Dick’s time as Robin, his time with the Teen Titans, the formation of the Nightwing identity, and his arrival in Bludhaven. It’s not at all necessary from a narrative standpoint. But it’s a cool little sub-story. Note that this is how Jason’s death was framed for the 15+ years between the character’s death and resurrection. As the ultimate cautionary tale for Batman and his surrogate family, his memory and all associated flashbacks and supposedly spectral appearances were there to be provoke lamentation.

Dick’s Will They?/Won’t They? romance with Barbara Gordon finally comes to a head in issue #38, as Nightwing retreats to Oracle’s clock tower home base after the events at Blackgate. In nursing Dick back to health, the two finally start speaking plainly and at length about their feelings for one another. But of course, it can’t be simple. Huntress, alongside a faction of No Man’s Land era Gotham cops with (to say the least) questionable motives, storm the clock tower in an attempt to capture Barbara.

Issues #38 and #39 finally bear the fruit of seeds planted near the beginning of the series. They talk openly about their feelings, and Barbara comes out and explains the role her paralysis played in why their relationship never fully blossomed. Having Dick’s old flame Huntress in the picture obviously makes for an awkward triangle at certain points. But it doesn’t spoil anything between Dick and Barbara. These issues are pivotal in the saga of their romance, as it begins to transcend flirtation. These two are serious about each other. Or at least they could be…

It’s also worth noting that McDaniel sufficiently carries his load during those quiet, romantic scenes. Which, as I’ve said before, aren’t necessarily his strong suit.

Issue #40 sees team up with a World War II era superhero to take on a Nazi. Sort of. The issue involves a bit character Dixon introduced earlier in the series. An elderly novelist. Draw your own conclusions there.

Portions of the issue are supplemented with prose paragraphs. Some readers don’t like that sort of thing. Personally, I’m fine with it as long as it’s written and formatted well. What happens here is harmless.

Nightwing #40 is a bit of a strange issue for our artistic team to go out on. But it nonetheless marks the end of an era for the Dick Grayson. One that continues to impact the character to this very day.

Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels, Deep Dive Reviews

Who is Nightwing? – Guest Stars Galore!

***As Nightwing’s public profile grows higher via the Titans TV series and the upcoming Gotham Knights game, “Who is Nightwing?” looks at Dick Grayson’s early solo adventures after stepping out of Batman’s shadow.***

TITLES: Nightwing 1/2, #1929
AUTHOR: Chuck Dixon
ARTISTS: Scott McDaniel, Greg Land, Karl Story (Inker), Roberta Tewes (Colorist), John Costanza (Letterer)
PUBLISHER:
DC Comics
ORIGINAL SELLING PRICE:
$1.95 per issue
ORIGINALLY RELEASED:
1998-1999
CURRENTLY COLLECTED IN:
Nightwing: Vol. 3: False Starts

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

So Nightwing has had its first chapter, its “Villains Chapter,” and we had what I’ll call the “Huntress Chapter.” In keeping with the sequence, this would have to be the “Guest Stars Chapter,” as it’s largely held up by guest appearances from other characters. We see Huntress again, along with plenty of Robin, some Batman, among others. Thankfully, these are still Nightwing stories at heart.

Most of these issues were published while the big No Man’s Land crossover was happening in all the Batman books. So a couple of them tie in. When word reaches Bludhaven that a massive Earthquake has struck Gotham City (They didn’t feel anything over there? I thought Bludhaven was just down river…), Dick rushes to his former home to help with the relief effort. In issue #19 we get his initial reaction to all the destruction, and spend a little time with a mother and her young child trapped underground. Naturally, Nightwing eventually has to come to their aid. Then in issue #21 he reunites with Oracle and Robin, and repels into what remains of the Batcave.

Chuck Dixon writes the hell out of these quake issues. The stuff with the mother and child in issue #20 is especially strong. He makes you care about these one-off characters you’re never going to see again, while also driving home just how dire the situation is.

As I’ve said previously, Scott McDaniel’s strengths, at least on this book at this time, were action scenes. The quieter and more emotional stuff is hit or miss, given his style. For instance, the panel at the top left of Nightwing and Robin reacting to the state of Wayne Manor and the Batcave? I’d call that a miss. It’s obviously not supposed to be a funny moment. But I’d call those faces, particularly Dick’s, unintentionally funny.

On the subject of Robin/Tim Drake, the best issue in the collection is the one where he and Dick get some quality time. They’re blindfolded on top of speeding trains. But everything is relative, I suppose.

We see enough of Tim in this collection that he almost becomes a series regular. But issue #25 stands out because Dixon has a chance to do some great character work with two heroes he knows about as well as anybody. It’s not just their mutual experiences as Robin that bring them together. It’s the brotherly relationship they have. Tim legitimately wants Dick’s advice (“My girlfriend’s pregnant.”) and Dick legitimately cares. The speeding train scenario also plays right into Scott McDaniel’s strengths.

Issue #23 is part four of a five-part crossover with Green Arrow (Conner Hawke’s book), Detective Comics, and Robin. Amazingly, Dixon was writing all those books at the time. It’s not much of a read if you haven’t seen the first three issues. But it’s cool to see how Dixon write Dick’s rapport with Tim and Conner. We even briefly see both Batman and Black Canary, which is fun.

In issue #27, Inspector Dudley Soames, a frienemy of Nightwing’s we’ve been following since early in the series, completes his transformation into the villainous Torque (shown left). Torque is comic book ridiculousness at its most glorious. He’s a man whose head has been twisted backwards, and finds vengeance by pumping his enemies with a whole lot of lead. You won’t find Torque on any “Best of” lists. But you’ve got to begrudgingly respect him, right? I mean, try doing anything with your head twisted around like that. Just sayin’. Can’t be easy.

As for Dick and Huntress/Helena Bertinelli, there’s some inconsistency between her demeanor here and what we saw in Nightwing/Huntress. That four-issue mini was flawed, but it was also pretty good at being self-contained. Dick and Helena had their fling, decided things wouldn’t work between them, but ultimately still worked together as heroes. Issue #29 however, implies she’s still holding out hope they can be together. It feels like there’s a desperation there that doesn’t look good on her. (Example shown below.)

Still, I came away from these issues with a new appreciation for what DC was trying to do with Dick and Helena. They’re those two people that are so wrong for each other, but are still incredibly attracted to one another. So they keep falling into the same trap and hooking up again and again. But they just can’t make it work as a relationship. They’re too different. Dick and Helena didn’t have an ongoing thing. But otherwise, I’d say that description fits them to a T.

One of the elements that goes a long way in distinguishing Dick from other members of Batman’s surrogate family is just how well he gets along with the superhero community at large. He’s not quiet, moody, and broody the way Batman is. If anything, he’s the opposite. As such, people gravitate toward him. Rarely will you find that on display better than in some of these issues.

Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels, Weekly Comic 100s

Weekly Comic 100s: Juggernaut, Drakkon New Dawn, and More!

***”Weekly Comic 100s” keeps it nice and simple. Comic book reviews in 100 words or less. Straight, concise, and to the point.***

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

TITLE: Juggernaut #1
AUTHOR: Fabian Nicieza
ARTISTS: Ron Garney, Matt Milla (Colorist), Joe Sabino (Letterer). Cover by Geoff Shaw.
RELEASED: September 23, 2020

This is about what you’d think would come from a Juggernaut solo book. We dive into the more sensitive side of Cain Marko as he does, of all things, a damage control job.

The art doesn’t necessarily have the sense of movement that I was hoping to see from a Juggernaut comic. But the rendering of Cain himself is good, the book has a nice texture, and it’s got a decent opening premise. This issue won’t blow your mind. But it just might bring you back for next time.

TITLE: Power Rangers: Drakkon New Dawn #2
AUTHOR: Anthony Burch
ARTISTS: Simone Ragazzoni, Raul Angulo (Colorist), Ed Dukeshire (Letterer). Cover by Jung-Geun Yoon.
RELEASED: September 23, 2020

We get a return here that’s not surprising, given the tease we saw last time. Thankfully, that return ushers in a certain return to form by the end of the issue. New Dawn was starting to look less and less like a Power Rangers story. I’m now mildly curious to see where they take this, which is more than I could say last time. So the issue accomplishes that, at least.

This art doesn’t do much for me. There’s a messiness to it. All the dull and drab colors of this “dark” timeline don’t do it any favors either.

TITLE: Batgirl #49
AUTHOR: Cecil Castellucci
ARTISTS: Robbi Rodriguez, Jordie Bellaire (Colorist), Andworld Design (Letters). Cover by Giuseppe Camuncoli, Cam Smith, & Jean-Francois Beaulieu.
RELEASED: September 22, 2020

I dig Robbi Rodriguez’s art. But in this issue his version of Jim Gordon looks like a cartoon dog with an oversized mustache. Maybe scale that thing back?

One thing I appreciate about this series, granted having only revisited it recently, is how it’s more about the Gordon family than just Barbara/Batgirl. And indeed, that’s where most of the drama comes from in this issue. There’s also an apparent death that I really hope isn’t what it appears to be.

TITLE: Batman #99
AUTHOR: James Tynion IV
ARTISTS: Jorge Jimenez, Tomeu Morey (Colorist), Clayton Cowles (Letterer)
RELEASED: September 15, 2020

I’ve finally realized why “Joker War” isn’t landing with me: This “Joker knows Batman’s identity” genie is probably going back in the bottle. Hopefully sooner rather than later. So we’re missing a sense of consequence.

There’s a nice little moment between Batman and Dick Grayson in this issue. Though if the cover were to more accurately reflect what’s in the issue, it would feature Batman and Harley Quinn. She’s had a bunch of weighty conversations during “Joker War.” She might want to start a podcast at this point.

Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels, Deep Dive Reviews

Who is Nightwing? – One Knight Stand

***As Nightwing’s public profile grows higher via the Titans TV series and the upcoming Gotham Knights game, “Who is Nightwing?” looks at Dick Grayson’s early solo adventures after stepping out of Batman’s shadow.***

TITLES: Nightwing/Huntress #14
AUTHOR: Devin Grayson
ARTISTS: Greg Land, Bill Sienkiewicz (Inker), Noelle Gidding (Colorist), John Costanza (Letterer)
PUBLISHER:
DC Comics
ORIGINAL SELLING PRICE:
$1.95 per issue
ORIGINALLY RELEASED:
1998
CURRENTLY COLLECTED IN:
Nightwing: Vol. 3: False Starts

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Something feels off here.

Nightwing/Huntress was a four-issue miniseries, the sole purpose of which seems to be the creation of a brief romance (if you can even call it that) between the two titles characters. It was published at the same time the main Nightwing series was ongoing. What that likely means is that someone in editorial came to Devin Grayson, Greg Land, and this team and said, “Hey, we want Nightwing and Huntress sleep together. Can you do it in four issues?”

But of course, that’s just speculation on my part.

With Batman away, Gotham city is under Nightwing’s protection (So who’s watching Bludhaven?) when a mobster is framed for a murder. But the crime’s mafia connections also attract the attention of the Huntress. The two wind up working the case together, and passions flare when they discover they have more than an enemy in common.

At this point in her near 10-year run, the Huntress/Helena Bertinelli character had been established as someone too violent and impulsive to be endorsed by Batman. To her immense frustration, she was seemingly banned from Batman’s inner circle. Nevertheless, her own bloody history with the mob fueled her crusade to operate in Gotham with or without the Dark Knight’s approval.

Then you had Nightwing/Dick Grayson, who years earlier had struck out on his own. Yet he still adheres to Batman’s code, and is still very much part of his extended “family.” There’s lots of potential for some “opposites attract” chemistry there, and in fact that’s what this book is supposed to be.

The problem is that it jumps into the…shall we say, “physicality,” before we really have a chance to explore any of that chemistry. It all starts rather abruptly, with feelings that are exposited rather than shown. We don’t go on the ride with Dick or Helena. That’s the missing ingredient here. Instead we spend much of the book analyzing the fallout from the act.

One character I’m grateful has a presence here is Oracle/Barbara Gordon. She wasn’t a vital ingredient. But given the Will they?/Won’t they? dynamic they had in the main Nightwing series at the time, her inclusion and input adds valuable perspective and context to things.

On a site note: Bruce Wayne is a public figure in Gotham City, yes? And Dick Grayson was once his ward, yes? So to an extent that makes him a public figure, yes? So when Dick and Helena consummate their attraction to one another, with masks completely off, shouldn’t she recognize him? And thus, shouldn’t she then be able to deduce that Bruce Wayne is Batman? Or are we just ignoring that notion for convenience?

Greg Land is back with us here, delivering a product that I would say is on par with what we got in the miniseries. One of my favorite panels in the book is pictured above. Though when you consider the accusations lobbied against Land for his use of pornography as photo-reference, it definitely makes you wonder…

The coloring, on the other hand, is definitely an upgrade. Noelle Gidding turns in something suitably dark and moody. The miniseries, and for that matter the main series at times, looked a little too bright for my taste.

One redeeming element here is that the effects of Nightwing/Huntress would subsequently be felt in not just the main series, but the No Man’s Land crossover that would soon follow. So at least this story had a purpose and an impact. But sadly, the book itself under-delivers.

Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels, Deep Dive Reviews

Who is Nightwing? – The Villains Chapter

***As Nightwing’s public profile grows higher via the Titans TV series and the upcoming Gotham Knights game, “Who is Nightwing?” looks at Dick Grayson’s early solo adventures after stepping out of Batman’s shadow.***

TITLES: Nightwing #918, Nightwing Annual #1
AUTHOR: Chuck Dixon
ARTISTS: Scott McDaniel, Greg Land, Karl Story (Inker), Bob McLeod (Inker), Roberta Tewes (Colorist), John Costanza (Letterer)
PUBLISHER:
DC Comics
ORIGINAL SELLING PRICE:
$1.95 per issue (Annual: $3.95)
ORIGINALLY RELEASED:
1997-1998
CURRENTLY COLLECTED IN:
Nightwing, Vol. 2: Rough Justice

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

This first volume of Nightwing has historically been collected in chunks of roughly 8-10 issues. Issues #1-8 are usually the first chapter, and this collection of issues #9-18 and the first annual can be seen as a second chapter. To that mindset, I’d call this the “Villains Chapter.” Dixon, McDaniel, and the team have set up Dick Grayson’s new status quo. Now it’s time to create some new villains for him to fight, as well as bring in some familiar faces from Gotham.

In issue #7, we learned the identity of Bludhaven’s new crime lord: Roland Desmond, a.k.a. Blockbuster. For my money, Blockbuster’s effectiveness as a lead villain largely depends on how much perspective you have as a comic book reader. If you’re simply reading these issues at face value, as I was when they first came out, then he’s fine. A big bad crime boss who, unlike a Carmine Falcone or a Rupert Thorne, can actually be a physical threat to our hero. But with the benefit of hindsight more than two decades later? He feels like an attempt to imitate Wilson Fisk, a.k.a. the Kingpin over at Marvel. But I’ll say this much: He’s a good imitation. And Scott McDaniel is great at juxtaposing this giant monster in a suit with the ultra fast and flexible Nightwing.

As the book continues to develop a mini-rogues-gallery for Nightwing, the book brings in a few icons to help hold down the fort. We see Man-Bat, Deathstroke, and the Scarecrow. The latter is particularly effective, as it doubles as an opportunity for readers to dive into Dick’s psyche and get to know him that much better. You wouldn’t know it by looking at him, but our former Boy Wonder is living with a hell of an inferiority complex. To that end, I love how Chuck Dixon incorporates Bruce Wayne choosing Jean Paul Valley to take his place as Batman during the Knightfall storyline. It’s a nice way to illustrate that despite wanting to be his own man, Dick still cares deeply about what Batman thinks of him.

We spend about an issue’s worth of pages experiencing these Scarecrow-induced hallucinations with Dick. Some of it’s played for surreal humor, which wouldn’t have necessarily been my first choice. But it gets the point across. Less effective is Scott McDaniel, Karl Story, and Roberta Tewes’ visual take on the scenes. I said it last time, and I’ll reiterate here: This team is so much better suited for action scenes than the quiet, existential stuff. Our opening issue, which sees Nightwing evading gunfire in a shopping mall? A delightful read that has a great visual flow to it. Dick Grayson confronting his worst nightmares? Meh.

Another strike against McDaniel, along with other artists of this era, is what I’ll call “shoulder horns Batman” (shown below). For whatever reason, in the ’90s and early ’00s it was acceptable to put pointy horn-looking gimmicks on Batman’s shoulders. I think the idea was to make him look more menacing, and even a little demonic. But I’ve always hated it. Thankfully it gradually went away, and never made its way into any of the on-screen versions of the character.

On the subject of ’90s costumes, I didn’t even recognize Deathstroke at first. I’d completely forgotten about his black and blue suit…

Though it might be blasphemous to some, I prefer what Greg Land turns in on Nightwing Annual #1. The final product is cleaner, and makes for an enjoyable read.

These issues are also where we start to pick up the pace on the slow-burn romance between Dick and Barbara Gordon/Oracle. Chuck Dixon was one of, if not the master of writing the chemistry between these two. It’s not particularly subtle. Dick and Barbara are fairly flirtatious whenever he comes to her for help on a case. At one point, Dick practically talks openly about a potential romance with her. It’s more a case of Will they?/Won’t they? To his credit, Dixon is able to strike a really nice balance in these issues. He makes us want to see Dick and Barbara get together. But at the same time, he’s able to write in some chemistry between Dick and his building superintendent without making either character look like a heel. On paper it’s a very precarious love triangle. But Dixon pulls it off beautifully.

What’s more, it wouldn’t be long before Dick had yet another love interest. Sparks were about to fly as Nightwing crossed paths with none other than Helena Bertinelli…the Huntress!

Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

 

Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels, Deep Dive Reviews

Who is Nightwing? – Bludhaven Begins

***As Nightwing’s public profile grows higher via the Titans TV series and the upcoming Gotham Knights game, “Who is Nightwing?” looks at Dick Grayson’s early solo adventures after stepping out of Batman’s shadow.***

TITLES: Nightwing #18
AUTHOR: Chuck Dixon
ARTISTS: Scott McDaniel, Karl Story (Inkers), Roberta Tewes (Colorist), John Costanza (Letterer)
PUBLISHER:
DC Comics
ORIGINAL SELLING PRICE:
$1.95 per issue
ORIGINALLY RELEASED:
1996-1997
CURRENTLY COLLECTED IN:
Nightwing, Vol. 1: Bludhaven

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

This is it. I’d argue these are the issues that would define Dick Grayson for the next two decades and beyond. And they’re good!

Pretty good, that is.

When a whopping 21 dead bodies float up river into Gotham Harbor, Batman and Nightwing trace them to Gotham’s sister city, Bludhaven. When the Dark Knight sends him to investigate, Dick Grayson quickly learns that in many ways, Bludhaven is worse than Gotham. What’s more, a mysterious new crime lord has seized control of the city. Thus, Nightwing must discover their identity and take on a city corrupt to its core. And he’ll have to do it on his own…

I credit Chuck Dixon as one of the more underappreciated architects of Batman’s world as we know it. So Dick was in great hands for his first ongoing series. As one would expect, Dixon spends a good portion of these issues laying groundwork. We establish where Dick is in his life, Bludhaven as a character in itself, his supporting cast, and by the end we have our main villain.

Long before the term “quarter-life crisis” was a thing, Nightwing was essentially a quarter-life crisis book. Not simply about a superhero in a new city, this book is about an early-20s Dick Grayson creating a life for himself without his mentor’s help. And we get to see him doing a lot of those “fresh start” things. He gets an apartment without Bruce Wayne footing the bill. He gets a day job as a bartender. He meets a cute girl. He explores his new city and learns to care about it. These are all things young, particularly college-age adults can identify with. Nightwing reached for a key demographic in ways that few superhero books do.

For the first 40 issues of Nightwing, our art team consisted of Scott McDaniel, Karl Story on inks, and Roberta Tewes on colors.  That’s a heck of a run. A downright historic one when you consider all it did for Dick Grayson.

Personally? I have no choice but to acknowledge this team got the job done, as the work still holds up more than 20 years later. But to be blunt: It’s never really been my cup of tea.

To me, Scott McDaniel’s art has always screamed, “Action!” If you want him to draw, say, a sequence where a helicopter takes off carrying a small building that has Nightwing and a bad guy inside, McDaniel is your man. He’s less suited, however, for quiet moments. A recurring nightmare sequence, for instance. Or a scene at Dick’s bartending job. Sometimes they work, case in point the scene in issue #1 where Dick gives a young would-be mugging victim some money to get the hell out of Bludhaven. But just as often they don’t.

What’s more, the coloring choices make the art hard to follow at certain points. For instance, look at the page below. I understand the effect they’re going for with the lighting. But the final product looks, quite frankly, like someone spilled lemonade all over the page.

On a random side note, it’s amazing to think the Black Mask character has lasted 35 years. Especially when you consider his original design looks like a Blue Man Group guy in a pinstripe suit. He makes a quick appearance in issue #1.

Robin/Tim Drake stops by for issue #6. It’s a fun exploration of the brotherly dynamic Dick and Tim have. It does more for Tim, which is a little bit backwards considering it’s Dick’s book. But putting Dick with the current Robin will always be interesting.

We’ll dive into who Bludhaven’s mysterious new crimelord is next time. It has its ups and downs, but the decision lasts almost 100 issues. So suffice to say it worked out for them. That’s emblematic of these first eight issues overall. They’re hardly perfect. But in the long run, they were exactly what the Dick Grayson character needed as he moved into the next phase of its life.

Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels, Deep Dive Reviews

Who is Nightwing? – Prelude to Solo Stardom

***As Nightwing’s public profile grows higher via the Titans TV series and the upcoming Gotham Knights game, “Who is Nightwing?” looks at Dick Grayson’s early solo adventures after stepping out of Batman’s shadow.***

TITLES: Nightwing #14
AUTHOR: Denny O’Neil
ARTISTS: Greg Land, Mike Sellers & Nick Napolitano (Inkers), Cathi Bertrand (Colorist), John Costanza
PUBLISHER:
DC Comics
ORIGINAL SELLING PRICE:
$2.25 per issue
ORIGINALLY RELEASED:
1995
CURRENTLY COLLECTED IN:
Nightwing, Vol. 1: Bludhaven

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Dick Grayson officially adopted the mantle of Nightwing in mid-1984 in the pages of Tales of the Teen Titans #44. The move was meant to remove Dick from Batman’s shadow and make him more of his own man. That’s why it’s so surprising in retrospect that the character didn’t get his own solo series until 1996, 12 years later.

Granted, there were one-off issues where Dick would get the spotlight. For a short time in the mid-’90s, he even stood in for Bruce Wayne as Batman. But it wasn’t until 1996 that Nightwing got his own book, and even his own city to protect. After more than 40 years as Robin, and over a decade as Nightwing, Dick was finally spinning off into his own adventures.

DC Comics would test the waters, and ultimately set the stage for a Nightwing ongoing series with a four issue mini published in 1995. Written by legendary Batman scribe Denny O’Neil, the story sees Dick revisit his past while preparing for his future. He also gets a new costume in the process.

Dick starts the story by doing something you probably don’t want to do before you start your own solo series – He quits. Handing his costume over to Batman, saying he’s realized “I’m not you. I was never you. I don’t want to be you.”

And what does Dick want Batman to do with the costume? He has some ideas…

“Put it in a trophy case. Give it to the Salvation Army. Burn it.”

Indeed, Dick Grayson is giving up on superheroics, opting to live a more normal life. A little abrupt? Sure. But I like this idea for Dick. He was and is the most outgoing among Batman’s surrogate family, which makes him the most naturally likable. So as readers, we want to see him happy and fulfilled.

Of course, it can’t last. The poor guy barely makes it to the next morning before he finds an old letter to his parents, threatening them for something they apparently saw in the despotic nation of Kravia. Naturally, he has to investigate.

Our penciller is Greg Land, who’s faced a lot of criticism over the course of his career for his use, and perhaps abuse, of photo reference. He’s been accused of lifting, and even flat-out tracing, images from sources as lewd as hardcore pornography. As far as I know, this Nightwing story pre-dates those allegations. I don’t see anything that stands out as blatantly lifted from somewhere else. Though there are a few images that are a little suspect. Case in point, an image in issue #1 of a briefs-clad Dick Grayson on a bed. I can’t bring myself to complain about that from a sexualization standpoint, given how female characters are often drawn to this day. But it makes you wonder.

There’s also the image above, where Dick, posed like a catalog model, is standing in what has the distinction of being the ugliest shirt I’ve ever seen in a comic book. He unfortunately wears that for much of the second issue.

While he’s unquestionably one of the all-time greats, this is hardly Denny O’Neil’s best work. He has to inject a decent amount of narrative convenience into things to get the story going and to fit it into four issues. The despot in Kravia just happens to remember who Dick is. The assassin he then sends to kill Dick is able to find him very quickly, which provides our hero with a trail of breadcrumbs to follow back to the villain. Makes me wonder why they didn’t keep things a little more simple than a story about whether a dictator was involved in the plot to kill Dick’s parents…

On the upside, this mini is where we see Nightwing’s black and blue costume (shown below) for the first time. His original suit, affectionately called the “disco suit,” worked for a colorful superhero team book in the ’80s. It was later changed to the sleeker, darker-yet-somehow-also-brighter outfit shown above. It was changed again here, presumably because tonally Nightwing was moving into territory closer to Batman. Dark, avenging hero of the night, and all that.

This is the look that practically all subsequent takes on the Nightwing outfit were based on. With Dick’s previous two outfits, especially the first, it feels like there might have been pressure to give the character something with a grandeur befitting his legacy. As it turned out, they were better off keeping it simple. Black with a touch of blue. It’s almost a minimalist’s superhero costume. The black costume also gave Nightwing a certain cool factor he maintains to this day.

At face value, this Nightwing mini isn’t much to write home about. The story is overdone, the villain is generic and forgettable, and by the end the whole thing seems all for naught. But it nevertheless holds an important place in the character’s history as the tale that gave him his new costume, and set him down a path to solo stardom. For that alone, it’s worth a look.

Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels

The Lost Carnival Deep Dive – Nightwing, is That Really You?

TITLE: The Lost Carnival: A Dick Grayson Graphic Novel
AUTHOR: Michael Moreci
ARTISTS: Sas Milledge, Phil Hester, David Calderon (Colorist), Steve Wands (Letterer)
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: DC Graphic Novels For Young Adults
PRICE:
$16.99
RELEASED:
May 5, 2020

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

The Lost Carnival: A Dick Grayson Graphic  Novel isn’t really a Dick Grayson graphic novel. Or at least it doesn’t feel like one. It’s more like a YA novel about a lost carnival forced into the graphic medium that they slapped the name Dick Grayson on for brand recognition.

All that being said, it’s still a pretty decent book.

The Lost Carnival introduces us to a teenage Dick Grayson, a traveling circus performer with his parents, the Flying Graysons. But the struggling circus is being walloped by a carnival that’s opted to set up shop nearby. Dick, however, soon discovers all is not as it seems. The carnival, and a mysterious young magician named Luciana, are linked to the past in ways Dick could never imagine.

My biggest problem with some (not all, some) of these original DC graphic novels is they don’t necessarily feel like they’re trying to tell a story about their main characters. Rather, it feels like the story was concocted first, and the character pasted on to it. For instance, a story about a girl in a band? It’s obviously about Black Canary! Girl in a wheelchair solving puzzles? Oracle! And if you’ve got a story with a carnival/circus theme, it’s got to be Dick Grayson. (I’m not making any accusations here. I’m just saying that’s what it feels like.)

For a book that claims it’s “redefining Dick Grayson for a new generation,” there’s not much in here that necessarily feels specific to Dick. He’s got a love interest, a best friend, a crush. He’s rebelling against his parents, and ultimately learns a lesson about holding on to those dear to him, All pretty standard YA stuff. Yes, he’s in the circus. But outside of the magic element, the book doesn’t play with that too much. An opening scene with Dick and his parents on the trapeze is about it.

But who is Dick Grayson, exactly? As Robin, he’s essentially the yin to Batman’s yang. He’s the plucky and exuberant light that keeps the Dark Knight from journeying too far into the proverbial darkness. Unlike Bruce, Dick also thrives when working with others. He becomes the leader of the Teen Titans, and develops close friendships with virtually all his teammates. He’s also quite simply an easy person to like and get along with.

Lots of teenagers struggle with not fitting in. The feel isolated. So in Dick’s situation, why not make that literal? The Lost Carnival tells us he only travels with his parents in the summer. But that’s a missed opportunity. Why not make him a year-round circus performer who’s home-schooled, and thus doesn’t know a lot of kids his own age? Thus, his connection to Luciana isn’t just your standard “boy crushing on girl” story.

The book gives Dick a best friend named Willow, a magician and fellow circus performer who will ultimately play into the book’s climax. But why not have the two start the book as virtual strangers, with Willlow having recently joined the circus. Then by the end of the book, Dick has something he didn’t have at the beginning: A new friend his own age.

Y’know. Just a thought.

The pencils and inks are credited to Sas Milledge with Phil Hester. Not quite sure how that breaks down. The figure rendering in this book has the tiniest bit of fluidity to it. It’s not much, but enough to make things feel a little bit off. Still, Milledge’s version of Dick Grayson manages to be pretty strong. Faithful enough that it reminds us of Nightwing, but unique enough to be her own.

The book plays with different color tints for different scenes, with everything else staying black and white. I can’t say it works amazingly in terms of setting a mood or a tone, or even separating parts of the book. But it’s a way to go. David Calderon’s colors look nice at any rate.

I won’t say The Lost Carnival is utterly forgettable. It works as a story about a magic carnival, but it underachieves as a story about a young Dick Grayson. There’s a certain authenticity that’s missing. The Flying Graysons may soar, but this Dick Grayson graphic novel falls short.

Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels, Weekly Comic 100s

Weekly Comic 100s: Batman, Power Rangers, Magneto, and More!

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Been a rocky couple of weeks on the comic book front for yours truly. Wasn’t able to get to the shop a couple weeks ago. Then last week my local shop had a problem with Lunar Distribution, the company that now distributes DC in the wake of their split from Diamond. So there are still some holes left to be filled in my pull list. In the coming days, expect to see the most recent issues of Superman and Detective Comics, along with the final issue of Greg Rucka’s Lois Lane maxi-series.

But still, the train rolls along. I was even able to throw an issue of Batman: Gotham Nights in for good measure.

TITLE: Batman: The Adventures Continue #8
AUTHORS: Alan Burnett, Paul Dini
ARTISTS:
Ty Templeton, Monica Cubina (Colorist), Joshua Reed (Letterer)
RELEASED:
July 16, 2020

This one went by pretty quickly. But it does Azrael some nice justice. We put over the violent tendencies we saw all those years ago in the comics, while also tying yet another classic Batman villain into the story.

With few exceptions, Ty Templeton and the artistic team have been as consistent as you could hope for on this title. What we see is more or less what we remember from those old tie-in comics, and I’m not sure what more you could ask in that sense.

TITLE: Mighty Morphin Power Rangers #51
AUTHOR:
Ryan Parrott
ARTISTS: Moises Hidalgo, Walter Baiamonte (Colorist), Ed Dukeshire (Letterer). Cover by Jamal Campbell.
RELEASED:
July 15, 2020

Not a huge fan of Moises Hidalgo on this book. I usually like my MMPR art on the crisp, clean side. His has a little more of an exaggerated look. And as nitpicky as this is, I don’t enjoy the way he draws Tommy or Rocky’s hair.

As good as it got at various points, I’m very happy to see we’ve mostly moved on from “Necessary Evil.” We’ve got Zedd back, as well as Lord Drakkon. Yes, I’ve heard about the upcoming “split.” But hopefully we can enjoy ourselves in the meantime.

TITLE: Giant-Size X-Men: Magneto
AUTHOR: Jonathan Hickman
ARTISTS: Ramon Perez, David Curiel (Colorist), Clayton Cowles (Letterer). Cover by Ben Oliver.
RELEASED: July 15, 2020

In this issue, Emma Frost recruits Magneto to find her an island where she can set up a base. Fair enough. If you want somebody to find an island for you, Magneto’s not a bad choice. Good call, Emma.

But yeah…that’s about it. Certainly not worth the $4.99 cover price. Completely and utterly skippable.

TITLE: Batman #94
AUTHOR:
James Tynion IV
ARTISTS:
Guillem March, Rafael Albequerque, David Baron (Colors), Clayton Cowles (Letterer). Cover by Tony Daniel & Tomeu Morey.
RELEASED:
July 7, 2020

Not necessarily the strongest issue we’ve seen from Tynion and the crew thus far. But I will say that this issue goes a long way in creating that vibe of foreboding dread that comes when an event comic villain really ramps it up.

Batman #94 is, for my money, the first time we really start to deal with the ramifications of Alfred not being around. Lucius is treating an injured Batman, and at one point laments that he can’t be as focused or single-minded as Alfred was.

No offense Lucius, but we knew you weren’t gonna cut it.

TITLE: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #106
AUTHORS: Kevin Eastman & Tom Waltz (Story Consulting), Sophie Campbell (Story), Ronda Pattison (Script)
ARTISTS: Nelson Daniel, Pattison (Colorist), Shawn Lee (Letterer).
RELEASED: July 15, 2020

This issue is refreshingly Turtle-centric. That sounds odd for a book called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. But the TMNT have such a vast crew of supporting characters, it can work against them in that they feel lost in their own book. This issue gives us a chance to catch up.

Nelson Daniel is doing a fine job with the Turtles. I’ve said this before, but for some reason TMNT artists are make or break for me based on how they draw the bandanas in relation to the faces. Daniel does that very well.

TITLE: Something is Killing the Children #8
AUTHOR:
James Tynion IV
ARTISTS:
Werther Dell’Edera, Miquel Muerto
RELEASED:
July 8, 2020

This issue brings up an interesting question: How do you walk the line of good taste in a book about monsters eating and dismembering children? Or do you? If your book is already about that, do you just embrace the uncomfortable gore of it all?

Issue #8 shows us part of a dismembered corpse and a bloody shoe. As long as the art isn’t going for photorealism, I’d say that’s a nice balance. Werther Dell-Edera’s combination animated/painterly style works well with it too.

TITLE: Young Justice #16
AUTHOR: Brian Michael Bendis, David Walker
ARTISTS: Scott Godlewski, Gabe Eltaeb (Colorist), Wes Abbott (Letterer). Cover by John Timms & Eltaeb.
RELEASED: July 7, 2020

Now that we’ve taken a dive into what Conner Kent’s relationship to the space-time continuum is, this issue dives into Impulse’s. I’ll say this much: I didn’t expect it to involve Arkham Asylum.

It’s interesting that Bendis has continued to portray Superboy and Impulse as outliers from another reality. They don’t really belong. And as we’ll see next issue, he’s about to open it up that much further by bringing the in the Justice League. It gives this team an enduring misfit quality. That sort of thing is great if you like some teen angst in your superhero books.

TITLE: Marvels X #4
AUTHORS: Alex Ross (Story), Jim Krueger (Story and Script)
ARTISTS: Well-Bee, Cory Petit (Letterer). Cover by Ross.
RELEASED: July 8, 2020

This issue gives us a nice old-school Avengers moment. It’s very Alex Ross, with the heroes in their classic outfits. Well-Bee’s style darkens it. But that makes the colors pop that much more.

There’s an exchange in this issue that I love between Kraven the Hunter and Captain America. It’s about how anyone can put Cap’s costume on, and it’s simply a disguise. But of course, that’s not true. The costume is part of something much larger than the sum of its parts. Again, very Alex Ross.

TITLE: Batman: Gotham Nights #12
AUTHOR:
Tim Seeley
ARTISTS:
V Ken Marion, Sandu Florea (Inker), Andrew Dalhouse (Colorist), Troy Peteri (Letterer)
RELEASED:
July 7, 2020

A nice little Robin reunion that I was at one point convinced was drawn by Brett Booth. Is it common knowledge among supervillains which heroes used to be Robin? That’s what this issue seems to suggest. And if so, why? How would they know?

Interesting that they put Spoiler among this little alumni group. I was under the impression Stephanie Brown’s tenure as Robin wasn’t canon. I won’t complain, though. It’s actually rather refreshing to see.

Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.